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Negotiating the end of lockdown with your teenager

Posted 16th July 2020

Do you remember how you felt at the beginning of lockdown? Confused and anxious, but possibly also a little bit excited? Entering lockdown was not easy but leaving it may be equally challenging – especially if your children are teenagers…For the last three months, you have had “complete control” over your teenage child. You’ve known exactly where they were (mostly in their bedroom), you’ve been aware of what they were doing (not much and mostly online, talking to their friends, watching YouTube videos…). You’ve had no more worries about whether they really were at so and so’s house  (as they promised they were in a text), no more paranoia about who they were hanging out with in the park, no more fretting about what they were getting up to at the party of a friend of a friend…

During lockdown, there’s been very little argument and even less negotiation – about what time they have to come back from a night out, about how much alcohol they are allowed to drink, how much make up they can put on, how short their top or skirt can be… Most of the everyday anxieties for a parent that come with having an adolescent child living at home had gone. Of course, you’ve had other worries, about them missing out on their education, about spending too much time online or in their room… But the ordinary parental worry about them being in potentially risky situations, which you simply couldn’t monitor (and therefore were at liberty to imagine the worst) had gone. Because for the last three months, you and your teenage child have never been so close – at least geographically. And perhaps, with a bit of luck, emotionally too. You haven’t had that sort of “control” since they were a toddler. During lockdown, you had your little babies at home again…

With the end of lockdown, comes the end of that control. And of course, you are happy that your adolescent child can socialise again, because deep down you know that it is essential for them, that it is part of their development. However, relinquishing that control can feel confusing and scary, especially when the teenage world out there is, with COVID-19 still at large, in some ways less safe than the one you were dealing before lockdown. So how do you allow your teenager –  who has been starved of direct social interaction, of high-fiving, hugging and huddling with their friends –  to meet again safely with their peers?

It is important to remember that leaving lockdown is also confusing for teenagers. Some will want to go back straight away to how it was before, some will be more cautious and others may be very wary of re-engaging with the wider world. Therefore, communicating with your teenagers is essential. Sit down with your daughter or son and have a calm discussion about how to re-engage with their friends in a safe way. They too want to stay safe. Let them explain to you what their anxieties are and how they think they can make this work. Share your anxiety too, for yourself and for them, for their grandparents too perhaps,  and agree on a few but essential rules that you are happy with and that are acceptable to the teenager.

Once the rules have been agreed it is important not to assume that the job is done. Stay curious about your child’s life. It is important to continue to ask questions about their time with their friends, to check how they are feeling about the rules. Are they manageable, can they be improved? For you and your teenager to stay safe in a COVID-19 world, you will need an on-going conversation, one that needs to be refreshed and revisited every day.

But perhaps it doesn’t have to be a difficult or scary conversation. It might even be interesting. You may find you are more interested to hear what they’ve been up to, and they are more interested in telling you.